Yuma County Mental Health Court to Include Eligible Persons Charged with Misdemeanors and Felonies

The AJA Diversion Workgroup is focused on expanding diversion and deferred prosecution for those with behavioral health issues at the pre-trial stage.  Evidence shows that appropriate early intervention, with the right level of services and “dosage” of treatment, is the best way to forestall the recidivism and high societal and personal costs associated with untreated mental illness in the criminal justice system. 
Yuma County established a Mental Health Court in 2013 under the leadership of Judge Lisa Bleich.  They have had a very successful Drug Court in place for severaI years that paved the way for the Mental Health Court.
Three members of our Diversion Workgroup, including Brett Sandy of Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care and Jeremy Mussman of the Maricopa County Public Defender’s Office, presented a model pre-trial program to Yuma County officials last May.  That’s all it took.  Yuma County and City officials, along with their RBHA Cenpatico, seized the ball and ran with it.
In January, they will expand their Mental Health Court to become a Regional Mental Health Court.  It will supervise eligible persons from the city’s limited jurisdiction court and those with felony charges referred by Jon Smith, the Yuma County Attorney. This will be the only Arizona county to provide court-guided treatment before trial for those charged with felony offenses. 
Yuma was the perfect place to approach, as their collaboration and sense of purpose is noteworthy.  We will soon have a model for others to learn from and emulate.
Penny Pestle
AJA Diversion Workgroup and American Friends Service Committee-Arizona